How to Draw a Barn Owl

How to Draw a Barn Owl

Barn Owls are a very popular subject amongst artists because of their unusual faces and popularity amongst photographers (there is no shortage of excellent reference material). The complexity of Barn Owl feathers and coats often deters people from drawing them, but this tutorial will show you a fairly simple process that produces a very realistic looking Barn Owl drawing.

Difficulty: 3*

Required Equipment:

  • Pencils: HB-4B
  • Cotton buds/pads/tissues or Q-Tips
  • Eraser

Barn Owl


Step 1:

First, we must draw an outline. Begin by drawing two ellipses as shown – these won’t actually form the outline of the drawing, but will help us to draw it by acting as reference points and guidelines. As such, it is still important to get the two ellipses proportionally correct. The elongated ellipsis which forms the body should be rounded at the end that overlaps with the circular head guideline and tapered slightly at the other end. It should be about twice as long as the head guideline and about 1.3x as wide at its widest point.


Barn Owl


Step 2:

We now can begin the outline of the Owl. Using the ellipses as guides, add the details as shown. Bear in mind that the elliptical guide lines will be erased at a later stage.


Barn Owl


Step 3:

Add further outlines as shown, again make sure to keep them light and not to indent the paper


Barn Owl


Step 4:

Now that we have a good sense of the shape of the Owl we can begin shading. As you work on each section of the drawing, erase the guidelines so that they are very faint and then begin to shade the area. Make sure you do not erase all the guidelines at once, but only in the area you are working on – the guidelines in the surrounding area will help you visualise the shape of the Owl. Use tissues or q-tips to help smooth your shading. I have written a separate tutorial on shading which you can read here.


Barn Owl


Step 5:

We can now begin to add the details to the feathers. Make oval-shaped borders around some of the shaded areas as I have done to form distinct feathers, but only make one of the edges more defined. Make sure you look at a reference picture when doing your own drawings to help you draw a realistic looking coat of feathers.


Barn Owl


Step 6:

Now we add the less defined feathers to fill in some of the gaps in the wings. Shade small half-ovals with a pointed end in rows, almost like scales, in the white spaces as I have done.


Barn Owl


Step 7:

Now add darker details to add more contrast to the drawing. This also makes the feathers appear more three dimensional. Again, if you are drawing from a different reference picture, make sure you take careful note of where the shadows are to ensure that your drawing looks natural.


Barn Owl


Step 8:

Continue to add details. Make sure that the feathers don’t look too smooth. Add scratchy lines to the feathers and plumage to make them look more realistic – but don’t apply a lot of pressure or else risk making an irreversible mistake.


Barn Owl


Step 9:

The owl has dense fur around the legs / down the front of its chest. This requires a different technique to drawing the feathers – see my tutorials on drawing animal fur textures here for tips.

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